Renewable Energies Provide Answers

The trend to harness renewables began in Europe and is sweeping the globe.

Renewable energies are those that can be easily replenished. The production of energy through the use of water, sun, and wind is being examined as the ultimate answer to environmental challenges that affect a number of different resources.

Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, speaking before the Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy in the U.S. Senate in late January 2010, noted that wind turbines are springing up to capture the energy of the wind that blows so hard across the Great Plains.

He added, “We have huge solar potential in the deserts of the Southwest containing an estimated 2,300 gigawatts (GW) of energy capacity. Geothermal energy opportunities are bubbling up across the country. We have great opportunities to increase hydropower production through improvements in efficiency, by adding power generation units to existing facilities, and through pumped storage.”

The force of wind

Wind energy is experiencing exceptional growth, with an average annual rate of around 10 percent expected over the next 20 years.

From the years 2009 to 2013, Enel Green Power (EGP, a company of the Enel Group) (www.enelgreenpower.com)  plans to focus its growth on the development of wind sources; its wind capacity is projected to more than double from 1.2 GW at the end of 2008 to 2.8 GW in 2013. A single 1 megawatt (MW) wind turbine generates enough electricity to power 240 to 400 households.

This new company of Italy’s Enel Group is devoted to the development of renewable energy sources in Italy and abroad. The company is the world’s sector leader, generating capacity with 17 billion kWh of electricity from the power of the sun, water, wind and the heat of the earth.

In Italy, wind has been the fastest growing source of energy during the last five years. Starting with Italy’s first wind farm, which Enel (www.enel.com) built in Alta Nurra (Sardinia) in 1984, the company now operates 19 farms with total generation capacity of 362 MW. The company has a significant presence in the rest of Europe (more than 440 MW), Latin America (24 MW) and North America (406 MW).

Toni Volpe, head of the North American division of Enel Green Power and president and CEO of Enel North America, says, “While fossil fuels will continue to be part of the mix for the foreseeable future, I think it’s clear that Americans are supportive of renewable energy. It’s a job creator and will enhance national security by lessening this country’s dependence on foreign sources for its energy.”

There are challenges. Volpe adds, “With many states adopting regulations requiring local utilities to generate a certain portion of their electricity from renewable energy, there’s a tremendous opportunity for growth in the sector; wind can play a major role.”

The availability of transmission is a major issue. There are potential wind and other renewable energy projects across the country that can’t be developed now because of lack of space in the transmission system or the lines themselves to deliver power to those who would purchase it.

Special attention has been paid to technological innovation, with studies into offshore plants and ways of reducing impacts on the landscape. Enel Green Power intends to select high-value projects in countries with the highest level of growth potential, aimed at substantially increasing its total wind power capacity.

Partnering with developers

In the United States, in the fourth quarter of 2008, Enel North America completed construction at the major (250 MW) plant in Smoky Hills in Kansas. That year the company also completed the installation of 21 wind turbines of 3 MW each in Snyder, Texas on the tallest (above 100 meters) towers ever erected in the U.S.

TradeWind Energy (www.tradewindenergy.com), a nine-year old developer of wind farms in Kansas and surrounding Midwestern states, has a strategic partnership with Enel North America, whereby Enel has the priority right to acquire, own and operate wind projects developed by TradeWind.

The Kansas-based company was awarded the Governor’s Private Sector Renewable Energy Award after developing the state’s largest wind project, Smoky Hills Wind Farm, one of the highest producing wind energy sites in the central U.S. Generating nearly 250 MW of power, enough for 75,000 homes, it brings varied economic benefits to the area.
Innovative computerized data helps TradeWind select sites that achieve the most energy generation, while limiting impact on the environment. Currently, the company is developing more than 8,000 MW of wind energy in a dozen states.

Smoky Hills, spread across 20,000 acres near Salina, Kansas, takes less than two percent of land out of use for its 155 wind turbines. According to TradeWind, despite the farm’s light footprint, long-term economic benefits will be in the tens of millions of dollars. Among these are royalty payments collected by 120 landowners and the creation of more than 250 construction jobs and 25 permanent jobs.

Smoky Hills offsets 750,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year and avoids consumption of 175 metric tons of oil equivalent annually. More than 22,000 people view the project daily as they travel along I-70.

According to TradeWind CEO Rob Freeman, most sites are farms and ranches where one to two percent of the ground is used. The installations cause only a short interruption on the land, going up, typically, in a few months. “We work hard to stay out of the way,” he says, adding that animals on the land (e.g., cattle) often will be seen standing in the shadow of turbines on hot days.

“If there is significant opposition to a project,” says Freeman, “we leave. However, this is a very benign industry and represents economic opportunities. The vast majority would say it’s a perfect form of investment.

“Land is assessed in siting a project. We have four meteorologists on staff, including one of the first two PhDs in Wind Science and Engineering in the U.S., and a geographic information systems department that does the mapping. We have 30 sites leased now, some quite large, being done in phases. We will expand our footprint over time. We may acquire sites and push into solar. There is a host of reasons for investing in renewables. We answer the question; we are the magic bullet.”

Enel’s Volpe also looks to the future: “We believe wind power has a great future in the United States. That’s why we just recently invested in one wind development company based in Minnesota (Geronimo Wind LLC) and purchased another in California. (Padoma Wind LLC).”

Geothermal taps the ground

Geothermal energy represents an important and yet largely unexploited resource for an efficient generation mix in the light of sustainable development. Geothermal energy is heat from the earth; the use of steam and hot water from inside the earth can heat buildings or generate electricity. Water is refilled by rainfall.

Worldwide installed capacity is approximately 9 GW with estimated growth that foresees, due to an average annual growth rate of more than 4 percent, an installed base of 25 GW in 2030.

Enel’s Toni Volpe has been responsible for the introduction of geothermal activities into the company’s U.S. portfolio, as well as the expansion of wind and hydropower projects.

Enel Green Power operates two binary geothermal power plants in Churchill County, Nevada. The Stillwater and Salt Wells geothermal plants have a total gross installed capacity of 65 MW, which will generate over 400 million kWh of electricity a year, enough to meet the needs of some 40,000 U.S. households and avoid the emission of more than 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

In this field, the use of the binary cycle makes thermal sources usable at lower temperatures. The company is also working on experiments with dry rocks, which allows thermal sources without steam to be used.

The entry of Stillwater and Salt Wells into service quadrupled the amount of electricity generated from geothermal resources by EGP in the United States, and it makes a significant contribution to achieving the state of Nevada’s goal of generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by the year 2015.

The plants have been awarded more than $60 million in funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s 1603 Program, aimed at creating jobs and helping expand the development of clean, renewable domestic energy.

The facilities are medium-enthalpy plants, meaning that they operate at temperatures between 130-150 degrees C (266-302 degrees F), using binary-cycle technology that employs two fluids: hot water is extracted from the ground and brought into contact with a working fluid (in this case, isobutane) contained in a closed circuit. The working fluid, rapidly heated to very high temperature and pressure, drives turbines to generate electricity. The geothermal water is returned below ground and the secondary liquid remains in the closed circuit, ensuring no emission of greenhouse gases or other negative impact on local resources.

Stillwater and Salt Wells, on which construction began in 2007, employ more than 300 people and contribute to Churchill County in terms of energy generation from renewables, as well as in economic terms. According to the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, the two plants will have a positive impact of more than 4 million U.S. dollars on the area and will create 25 permanent jobs for the next 30 years.

With its century-old experience in Italy, Enel Green Power is a driver of geothermal power in the U.S., with a pipeline of advanced-stage projects providing capacity of 150 MW in Nevada, as well as California and Utah.

Volpe observes: “The support of the Obama Administration and the Congress for renewable energy is having a positive influence on the sector. Developing renewable energy can have significant up-front costs. In geothermal, for, example, site exploration and drilling requires a significant investment for the developer, and support from government to assist with those costs is very helpful, especially in the current economic environment where lenders are understandably skeptical about financing these somewhat risky endeavors.

“We’re currently exploring opportunities in solar, including the possibility of combining solar and geothermal. Our parent company has been involved with solar for years and recently entered into an agreement with Sharp for the construction of panels.”

Enel Green Power intends to contribute to the development of the biomass energy industry in Italy and it is already operating a biomass plant in Canada at St. Felicien, with a capacity of 21 MW. In the U.S., the company also has 65 hydroelectric sites that employ 138 people in 13 states.

Enel Green Power (EGP, a company of the Enel Group)
www.enelgreenpower.com

Enel
www.enel.com

TradeWind Energy
www.tradewindenergy.com
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